My kids don’t have a playroom. But they do have an art room.
Play is part of the fabric of their daily lives. They play everywhere in the house, everywhere outside, and you know…doctors’ offices, the car, grandma’s house, school. Play is life, and it’s not something they need to be invited to do.
Art is sometimes like that, but more often, art is something they need an invitation to. They love to create and get messy with art supplies, but they are not naturally inclined to quiet, focused work. Providing a place for just that makes it happen more often.
Once they get started, their focus is enviable. It’s the starting that sometimes doesn’t happen, unless we create opportunities for it. As MIT Lifelong Kindergarten professor Mitch Resnick says, we don’t need to teach creativity, but we do need to nourish it.
And that is where our art room comes in.
This post is a little different from my usual bookish fare, but I’ve been wanting to write more about creativity here on the blog, and I thought I’d start with one way we try to encourage it at home.
The Messages We Send by Having an Art Room
Just like play, art and creativity can happen anywhere. But what I love about having a room we call the “art room” are the messages it gives our kids.
Art and Creating Are Important
We have spaces in our home for eating, sleeping, relaxing, exercising, and working.
These are priorities in our lives. They keep us healthy and content, and they often connect us with one another.
An art room sends the message that art and the act of creating are important.
My husband and I are not very artsy people. I write and do some photography and he’s pretty handy, but we otherwise aren’t painters, sketchers, or crafters. We don’t collect art or even spend much time looking at it. We’re not the people you would expect to have an art room.
But we do value art, and we especially value the process of creating it. And the process and the joy of creation are the opportunities that we want to create for our kids.
We Are All Creative and Capable of Making Art
We read books and watch plenty of movies in our house–in other words, we consume the art of others. Obviously, as a reader, this is something I value.
I don’t want my kids to place creation into a realm that they feel is off limits to them, one where only the elite or naturally talented are considered artists or writers.
Even the naturally talented put in the time and work to create.
I try hard not to use phrases like, “I’m not an artist,” or “I can’t draw very well,” (even though I often think these things). My kids don’t think in terms of the outcome of art. If they want to make something, they do, and the process is just as important (moreso, I would argue) as the outcome.
Giving them a space for their supplies, their work, and their creativity sends the message that we believe in their ability to create art, and they should too.
We Make Space in Our Lives and Home for Art and Creativity
My kids are young, but they are already busy. They have school, friends, organized activities, and their many ongoing creative games to tend to.
And while I’m guilty of rushing them out the door at times, I don’t want them to join the cult of busy.
My kids can make non-stop noise, but there are times when they seem to retreat into the art room to exhale. I’ll find them there, quietly immersed in a drawing or project. They have the space to spread out and the ability to get the materials they need.
And while we do try to keep the room clean (this is easily the messiest room in the house at any given moment), they also have space to store and continue working on long-term projects.
We Can Create Alone or Together
The girls will wander into the art room when they need “alone time” and start in on a project. Sometimes they’re just tired after school, sometimes they’re upset with one another, and sometimes they’re just brimming with ideas.
Whatever brings them there, they are comfortable pulling out the materials and getting started on their own.
But they’re not always working there alone.
I’m not a skilled photographer, but I do enjoy learning about my camera and photography. I’ve been trying to take a few more pictures for the blog lately, and guess where we get the best light in the house?
Yup, the art room.
Some days, my youngest daughter and I are in there together, chatting and each doing our own art. Other times, we work together. She hands me props or holds up my makeshift reflectors, and I help her with her projects.
It’s a fun way to pass a morning, and I like that she sees me pursuing something creative. It also helps with the next point…
Art Takes Many Forms
I’m not sure my kids would associate photography with art if I didn’t make a project of it in the art room. Otherwise, I’m just the mom who’s always in their face with the camera.
My youngest and I were discussing how we call the room “the art room,” and she told me, “It’s also the picture room, where you take pictures!”
Likewise, we also use the art room for writing projects. My youngest is working on her letters, and my oldest loves to write books. My oldest also started shooting a “movie” there last week, with her toy figurines as stars.
Our main bookshelf is just outside of this space as well. It mostly houses my books, but also some kids books. They page through them all.
What I love is that they are considering creativity in many forms.
Art Is a Different Kind of Play
Do your kids talk to themselves when they play, or when they draw? Mine do, and it’s fascinating to listen to.
Their creations, and their chatter while making them, sometimes give us insight into what’s going on in their minds, at school, or with the rest of the family. Sometimes it’s not that deep but it does give us a peek at how they see and understand the world.
(Example: my 4-year-old and I were discussing clouds as she drew the other day. She then described them as “tornado makers.”)
Having our art room right in the center of the house allows for this listening and interaction, and a greater understanding of what our kids are doing with their art. Because it’s not all in the finished product. From this article in The Atlantic:
“it’s been shown that when children are scribbling … they’re representing through action, not through pictures,” said Boston College’s Winner. “For example, a child might draw a truck by making a line fast across the page and going ‘zoom, zoom,’ and so it doesn’t look like a truck when the child is done, but if you watch the process, what the child says and the noises and motion he makes when he’s drawing, you can see that he is trying to represent a truck through action,” she said. “And in a way you have drawing fused with symbolic play.”
How We Set Up Our Art Room
We moved into our house two years ago, and we are lucky to have some extra spaces we didn’t have before.
One of these is a dining room.
We decided years ago that we don’t need a dedicated dining room. Too often, for us, the dining room goes unused for the majority of the year. Sure, we occasionally host, but not enough to have a room dedicated to it.
Plus, we have a pretty large eat-in kitchen, as well as this expandable cabinet/dining table that works great when we have more people to entertain, but it doesn’t take up space at other times.
So the dining room was open for our use.
The art room started taking shape when I was looking for a solution to store art supplies. They were EVERYWHERE and driving me a little bit crazy.
I landed on these carts from Target (IKEA has similar ones) and cheap metal buckets from the party section.
Then we got a new table for our kitchen nook, so we moved the simple old one we had into the dining space. This was at a time when my oldest daughter was starting to outgrow the small kids table for her art projects. She immediately took to the larger table and spread out her latest creation. (As an aside, the little kid-size table is perfect for my photography. I may keep it forever just for that!)
It’s maybe not Pinterest-worthy, but it works for us. The only thing missing is a way to display art on the wall over the table (working on it!).
Our child-size kitchen is in the art room, making it a place where the kids play as well. But that is really the only “toy” in the space, and we still call it the art room–which I think is a key part of the points above. Naming something gives it power.
Having the big toys spread out a bit and not crammed in one room also seems to help the kids focus when they’re playing–kitchen is in one space, LEGO is in another, and dolls are in another.
Obviously, not everyone has a room in their house for a dedicated art room or playroom–we never did before moving into this house. And it’s certainly not a requirement for art or creativity. But if you do have the option, you might want to consider creating at least a small space that is dedicated to art and creation.
How do you make space for art and creativity in your home and family?